Restricted as I am at the moment in both internet access and the quality of what few connections I can manage to maintain, I regret to bring you an unfortunately truncated instalment this week, presented nonetheless for the strength of two of its entries, both underseen highlights of 2012. Of course, my inability to test the water in much volume this week shouldn’t preclude your own experimental wadings into the vast sea of another batch of new releases heavy on contemporary Asian cinema. Those I didn’t manage to get to, but offer at least some promise, are as follows: Last Scene; Mr. Lee vs. Mr. Lee; A Place of One’s Own; Sad Movie; More Than Blue; 388 Arletta Avenue; Graham Chapman: Anatomy of a Liar; Black Night; and End Call. View at your own peril.
Adrift in Tokyo
Few student loan repayments are as daunting as Takemura’s: harassed by omnipresent debt collector Fukuhara, he accepts the offer to have the loan forgotten in exchange for his accompaniment on a number of walks throughout the Japanese capital. Thus begins the ephemeral oddity of Adrift in Tokyo, its character’s short relationship gradually enlivened with revelations of wrongdoing on both sides as they simply walk and talk together. Satoshi Miki crafts a screenplay of amusing goofiness, his episodic structure allowing for plentiful indulgences in near-surreal vignettes with strange supporting characters whose oddball antics frame the gradually deepening dramatic subtext of the film. Such is the silliness of so much of the story, however, that the impact of any such drama is increasingly dulled, the regular returns to a flaccid subplot eventually restraining the movie from reaching the poignant heights it seems to strive for. A success though it is, it might have been much more. WORTH WATCHING.
Breathing (Read our full review)
Few would have thought, observing the excellence of Karl Markovics’ lead performance in 2007’s The Counterfeiters, that acting would turn out to be the lesser of the man’s cinematic talents. He makes his directorial debut with Breathing, a determinedly slow drama of immense power, its deliberate pacing gradually exploring every facet of its troubled central character. He, portrayed with laconic expressivity by Thomas Schubert, is Roman, a juvenile detainee who takes a job at a funeral home in an effort to build a steady life and earn his parole. Markovics’ particular framing captures each image of this young man’s life with striking beauty, steadily building a finely detailed portrait of guilt and grief, filtered through the astonishing work of his first-time leading man. Its simplicity belies one of the most complex ruminations on death the screen has seen in years; Breathing is nothing shy of a masterpiece. MUST SEE.
Death of a Superhero (Read our full review)
Similarly tackling the theme of death through the eyes of a young protagonist, Irish director Ian Fitzgibbon imbues Death of a Superhero with a fine balance of fury and frustration, telling the story of a cancer-stricken 15 year-old enraged to see his life taken away ever before it really began. Inventive scenes wherein the character’s comic book drawings spring from the page to enact a telling battle between his superhero alter-ego and the forces of evil are the films strongest facets, doing much to counter its foregrounding of that oddly frequent stock character: the terminal virgin. Anthony McCarten’s script, adapted from his own novel, does well to explore the dramatic implications of the story—particularly thanks to Andy Serkis as the boy’s therapist—yet detracts from that maturity in assuming that sex fills the mind of youth to the very last moment. It’s a shame indeed, the otherwise abundant tact of Fitzgibbon’s direction considered. WORTH WATCHING.
It’s almost hard to believe that people like the parents of Doan Hoang could have left Vietnam in 1975 for the country that had ravaged their homeland and its populace. Their move to the United States forms the basis of Doan’s documentary Oh, Saigon, a deeply personal account of the wounds of the war and the incredible efforts required to heal the scars of old. The abandonment of Van, Doan’s half-sister who was left behind when the family just managed to catch the last helicopter to America, is the emotional and narrative centre of the film, her difficulty in reuniting with her absentee parents painfully and poignantly portrayed. For all its emotion, however, there’s no denying that Oh, Saigon lacks the universality of a great documentary, the intimacy of its production and the inherent subjectivity of its director rendering it relevant particularly to the experience of this family alone; it remains an interesting chronicle, if not an essential one. WORTH WATCHING.
Sleepless Night (Read our full review)
It’s one of those sorry accidents of release scheduling that Sleepless Night arrived in the English-speaking world in the same year as The Raid; had the latter not kicked its way into the attention of mainstream movie-goers in 2012, it might have been the former that earned a place as the breakthrough foreign action hit of the year. Similar to The Raid in its narrative minimalism, single location, and incredibly display of balletic choreography in its fight sequences, Sleepless Night sees a dirty cop struggle to rescue his son from the clutches of a vindictive gangster nestled in the heart of a popular nightclub, the multiple levels and strobing neon of which provides the ideal stage for a relentlessly exhilarating action experience, if also a story that matters far less than the filmmakers sometimes think. Director Frédéric Jardin relentlessly stacks set piece atop set piece, his breakneck pacing culminating in one of the most impressive melees in action history. RECOMMENDED.
The Giant Mechanical Man
There’s a character in The Giant Mechanical Man—amusingly played by an impressively obnoxious Topher Grace—who thinks himself far smarter and funnier than he really is. He’s a good reflection of the film itself, in a way, its resolute adherence to formulaic rom-com structure and constant inability to raise more than a mild chuckle withholding the charm that might otherwise issue forth from its quirky characters. Both reliable supporting performers in their television careers, neither Jenna Fischer nor Chris Messina is quite strong enough to shoulder a feature film, the two between them just about managing to support the reluctant relationship between their characters, both dead-end thirty-somethings hopelessly lost in life. Admirable as his intentions are, writer/director Lee Kirk struggles to confront the seriousness of his themes, the ultimate slightness of his approach counterproductive to the severity of the ideas he aims to tackle. SO-SO.